By MAMAMIA TEAM
Yet another vessel carrying asylum seekers is suspected to have capsized en route to Australia, and up to 13 people are dead and 55 missing. This is the timeline of events so far:
Last week, a vessel carrying around 70 asylum seekers disappeared off Christmas Island.
On Friday, an alarm was reportedly raised with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority by Customs – approximately 12 hours after debris had been spotted floating in the water.
And then yesterday, 9 bodies were found. The numbers have risen steadily since.
The boat disappeared on Thursday, northwest of Christmas Island, and a search involving Navy boats and RAAF planes failed to find any sign of the ship or its passengers.
Finally, on Friday night a plane saw what they suspected to be a body in a lifejacket floating in the water. When merchant ships arrived, they found debris in the water.
After the alarm had been raised, a spokesperson for Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said on Saturday afternoon, “Border Protection Command assets are currently conducting a search approximately 65 nautical miles northwest of Christmas Island for a possible foundered vessel.”
The search is continuing, with Border Protection planes and a private aircraft scanning the waters, and the HMAS Warramunga as well as two merchant ships involved.
The incident has provoked continued criticism of Australia’s response to boats in distress.
Fairfax reported that former Australian diplomat Tony Kevin “asked why there was an almost 46-hour lag from the time the boat, with up to 60 people on board, was reported ‘overdue’ on its journey from Indonesia and the mounting of a search-and-rescue operation.”
The Refugee Rights Action Network told the ABC that this latest tragedy is evidence that the Government needs to change its border protection policy to ‘encourage the safe resettlement of refugees in Australia’.
Asylum seeker group Welcome to Australia tweeted, “As we mourn for those who died at sea tonight let us not pretend that punishing those who survive such a journey is an appropriate response.”
Today, Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said in a statement, “This is another terrible tragedy. Another terrible reminder how dangerous these journeys [are] … Let me take this opportunity to thank the men and women of Border Protection command for their bravery and for the dangerous work that they do.”
Clare responded to criticism that Australia should have responded more quickly, saying, “The vessel was stationary but did not appear to be in distress. The advice to me is that Australian authorities did not receive a distress call from this vessel”.
The Minister also reported that the boat was carrying predominantly adult men, and some women and children were on board.
This is the second asylum seeker boat to capsize while on its way to Australia this year alone. In the previous sinking, a pregnant woman and a young boy died. Two boats capsized last year, and over 100 people were killed.
Authorities are continuing to search for survivors.
More details from Mamamia as they emerge.